I’ve been ruminating recently on an issue I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about: How many players are too few or too many?
For most groups, this issue is more a matter of chance and social dynamics than it is about game play. Few of us would be willing to tell a friend who wants to join the fun that our game is full, and we’ve probably had a game or two never get off the ground because there weren’t enough players. I’ve encountered both sides of the problem in the two games in which I am currently involved. The one I play in may have too few players, while the that one I run sometimes has too many. There’s not a lot I can or am willing to do to change either of those situations, so both games are likely to continue on with a few attendant difficulties.
Still, I think it’s worth considering what the optimal number of players is and what might be done to alleviate situations that arise from having too few or too many at the table. Particularly compared to earlier editions, the 5th edition books have surprisingly little to say about party size and composition. About the only concrete note on party size appears in the section on encounter design in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. On page 83 there is the telling note that parties smaller than four and larger than five need to increase or decrease encounter multipliers for the number of monsters, but that’s about it.
It’s a useful note, but really avoids dealing with the fact that the whole game is going to be radically different if you have a party of three as opposed to a party of six.
I’ve concluded that the perfect party size is five PCs. It’s not just the math that makes this so; it’s the basic design of the class system that makes party size such a critical consideration.
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